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Articles of 2009

Wladimir Klitschko: He's Earned A Second Look

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Remember when Wladimir Klitschko was being touted by HBO as the heir apparent to Lennox Lewis after he neutralized Chris Byrd over 12 rounds in late 2000 to win the WBO heavyweight title? At that time we were also being told that Wladimir's first defeat, an 11th round TKO stoppage loss to Ross Purrity (24-13-1) in his 25th bout was a fluke and just a matter of him tiring. And despite the loss to Purrity,  Wladimir represented the new super-heavyweight fighter of the 21st Century.

Statements to that effect were often repeated at the pre and post fight press conferences of his fights and during the network broadcast of them. For a time in the early 2000's Wladimir received tremendous press and if you didn't know better one would think he would dominate the heavyweight division until he chose to retire. Then after five successful title defenses, all won by stoppage, Klitschko was stopped by Corrie Sanders, who was known for his punching power, in two rounds and was considered an over-hyped talent with a porcelain chin.

After the loss to Sanders, Klitschko brought Emanuel Steward in to train him. Steward was known for developing and teaching tall fighters how to best utilize their height and reach. In other words, he taught them how to fight big,  something he did for Lennox Lewis and it ended up improving him dramatically as a fighter. Steward knew the style he had to construct for Wladimir and knows what the other heavyweights in the division can't do. The first thing Steward taught Klitschko was how to hold and clinch and make his long reach and 6'6″ size work to his advantage. Once Klitschko grasped that concept he became almost impossible to follow up with a second finishing punch.

Klitschko scored two stoppage wins under Steward and earned a fight with Lamon Brewster for the vacant WBO heavyweight title. Klitschko dominated Brewster from the onset and even managed to drop him with an overhand right late in the fourth round. In the fifth round Klitschko slowed down and Brewster hurt him with a sweeping left-hook that led to him taking a standing eight count. When the bell rang to end the round Klitschko was exhausted and collapsed and the fight was stopped.

After being stopped twice by two fighters known for their power in 13 months, Wladimir Klitschko's career as a big time heavyweight appeared to be over. Once again, however,  he rededicated himself and vowed to comeback. After scoring two stoppage wins he agreed to fight undefeated Samuel Peter in a title elimination bout that would decide the fate of his career. Peter was considered the new terror in the division, but lacked polish and experience. Even at that his crude swing for the fence attack was thought to be all he needed to get by the fragile Klitschko. Only it wasn't so. Klitschko fought one of the best fights of his career and despite suffering three knockdowns he out thought and fought Peter in nine of 12 rounds and won a unanimous decision.

Since beating Peter, Wladimir Klitschko hasn't looked back nor has he been in trouble in any fight. He's gone 10-0 (8 KOs) since losing to Lamon Brewster and has won the IBF and WBO heavyweight titles. He's also beaten four undefeated fighters with a combined record of 93-0-2 and defeated Brewster in a rematch. The only fighter he's faced since his last setback that sported more than three loses on their record was Hasim Rahman, and everyone knows Rahman has taken on the biggest names in the division over the past decade.

For the last five years Wladimir Klitschko hasn't lost a fight and has won seven title bouts, with only the undefeated Sultan Ibragimov going the distance with him. Even at that Ibragimov only won three rounds at the most. The fact is Klitschko has been dominant and has scored some impressive knockouts along the way. Say what you will about the era not being one that will be talked about in 10 years, at least Klitschko has done what he's suppossed to do when confronted by second tier opposition, and that's get rid of his opponent in an impressive fashion.

It's repeated by fans and writers continuously that his bouts aren't exciting and he fights with trepidation, two fair points that won't be disputed here. However, in all fairness, how many thrilling and exciting title defenses did Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes make? It's out right dishonest to say every one of their title defenses were action packed and exciting. Louis had the bum of the month club. Ali, at age 33 defended the title against Chuck Wepner and Joe Bugner, and Holmes was defending it against Scott Frank and Lucien Rodriguez at relatively the same age Klitschko is now.

It also can't be disputed that Wladimir Klitschko fights defensively and sometimes exhibits hesitation in the ring. Before addressing that, it must be noted that Klitschko has overcome a lot of psychological baggage just to get back in the ring and compete with the best heavyweights in the world. And like Lennox Lewis, Klitschko has shown that his heart can't be questioned. He knows he doesn't have a great chin and lives with that in the back of his head every time he gets in the ring. Knowing that obviously leads to him fighting cautiously. But what about his opponents? They surely know that's considered his Achilles. Isn't the onus on them to go after him and try to put the seed of doubt in his mind even more? He has the title, you'd think fighting a guy with self doubt would lead to his opponents going after him more than any single one of them has attempted to. Only Chris Byrd gets a pass since he really wasn't a true heavyweight nor did he carry a big enough punch to get Klitschko out. Yet, he tried harder during their rematch to get to him than any other opponent he's fought in the last five years.

A lot of Klitschko's opponents talked a good fight before confronting him in the ring, just as David Tua talked before he fought Lennox Lewis. Tua said he was going to throw a hundred punches a round and knock Lewis out, something that changed once he ate a couple Lewis right hands. Samuel Peter did the same thing before fighting Wladimir, and like Tua, once he was touched a few times he fought in a measured manner and with caution for most of the bout. What does that tell you? Perhaps Klitschko inflicts a little pain when he connects. Every fighter I've talked to that has either sparred or fought him says he can really punch. Obviously, they're more qualified to speak to that than any writers or fans. They've also reiterated that he forces his opponent by virtue of his size to fight from their weakness and he neutralizes their strength. Which is what he's supposed to do. Not stick his chin out and dare them to try and hurt him.

He's the fighter with the name and the title. Beating him leads to more paydays. Lamon Brewster parlayed his win over Klitschko into three successful title defenses. Corrie Sanders didn't take advantage of him hitting the lottery when he beat Wladimir, and ended up losing the title to his older brother Vitali in his next fight a year later. The point is there's a lot of incentive for his opponents to go after him and try to take him down, yet when most of them get in the ring with him they look to survive more than to win. Why is that?

At the same time he can only fight the fighters of his era. It's not like he's avoided or ducked any particular fighter during his title reign. Neither Mike Tyson or Riddick Bowe can say that, at least with a straight face they can't. All Klitschko can do is fight who is in front of him. It can't be held against him that the fighters who are his size aren't nearly as skilled as he is, and the smaller heavyweights don't have anything physically to beat him with.

His showing over the last five years has been impressive. This time five years ago he was written off and most figured he'd be relegated to being his brother’s most reliable sparring partner, instead of the fighter to beat in the heavyweight division. It's not easy to get wins at the top of the heavyweight division during any era, something Klitschko has made look pretty easy in doing. Yes, even in the current state of the heavyweight division, everybody looks like a world beater when you are fighting and managing fighters in it.

In the late 90s I helped a friend with a heavyweight he managed who was going to fight Terrence Lewis. No big deal, right, it's not like he was Sonny Liston, George Foreman or Lennox Lewis. Anyhow, we get to the weigh in and Terrence walks in a few minutes later. After seeing Lewis come in we turned and looked at each other and commented how he appeared to be much bigger than we remembered him to be. That night in the ring he looked even bigger. They all do when you or your fighter have to fight them.

Some of Klitschko's manager and trainer critics would jump at the chance to manage or train him. Why? One reason. They know how formidable he is and how much money he would've netted them fighting in the heavyweight division he's competed during the past five years.

Who knows how history will look back at Wladimir Klitschko when he retires. However, since Lennox Lewis retired, he's been the most dominant heavyweight with the possible exception of his brother. That's irrefutable. The Chagaev fight is something boxing fans seldom get — a prime vs. prime match up between two different world title holders. Klitschko vs. Chagaev delivers that.

Then again if he beats the undefeated Ruslan Chagaev Saturday night, it will be said Chagaev was a nobody. If he loses to him, it'll be repeated endlessly that Wladimir Klitschko was never any good and it was just a matter of an unspecting fighter catching him with a good one on the chin.

Based on what Wladimir Klitschko has accomplished in the ring since his last defeat, he's earned a second look and career evaluation. A career record of 52-3 (46 KOs) versus the best of his era definitely merits at least that.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@gmail.com

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

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Former champion Rashad Evans meets Brazil’s venerable Thiago Silva in a non-title belt that can lead to a return match with the current champ, but first things first.

Evans (15-1-1) and Silva (14-1) meet in Ultimate Fighting Championship 108 in a light heavyweight bout on Saturday Jan. 2, at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A win by either fighter could result in a world title bid. The fight card is being shown on pay-per-view television.

Events can change quickly in the Octagon and anybody can beat anybody in the 205-pound weight division. Just ask Silva or Evans.

Silva and Evans are both experienced and can vouch firsthand about the capriciousness of fighting in MMA and especially as a light heavyweight. On one day this man can beat that man and on another day, that man can beat this man. It can make you absolutely daffy.

Evans, 30, is the former UFC light heavyweight world champion who only defended his title on one occasion and lost by vicious knockout to current champion Lyoto Machida of Brazil. It’s the only defeat on his record.

Silva, 27, is a well-rounded MMA fighter from Sao Paolo, Brazil who is versed in jujitsu, Muy Thai and boxing. He can end a fight quickly in a choke hold just as easily as with a kick or a punch. His only loss came to who else: Machida.

Evans and Silva know a win can push open the door to a rematch with current UFC light heavyweight champion Machida.

“A win against Rashad would put me in the track against Lyoto,” said Silva, in a telephone conference call. “That's what – what I want to do.”

When Silva fought Machida the two Brazilians were both undefeated and feared in the MMA world. The fight took place in Las Vegas and with one second remaining in the first round a perfectly timed punch knocked Silva unconscious.

“I was humbled big time, man,” says Silva who fought Machida in January 2009. “I learned a lot from that fight.  I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight, not overlooking anything else right now, but just I want to get the chance to fight him again.”

For Evans it was a different circumstance. The upstate New Yorker held the UFC title and was defending it after stopping then champion Forrest Griffin by knockout. Still, many felt Machida was far too technically versed. Evans was stopped brutally in the second round.

“I've made it a point to not – to not get distracted on what I want to do, because you know Thiago (Silva) is a very hungry fighter,” said Evans who has not fought since losing the title to Machida last May. “My focus is just on Thiago so much.  You know I don't want to overlook him, you know, not even a little bit.”

Dana White, president of UFC, says the winner of this fight could conceivably fight Machida in the near future. Evans and especially Silva are motivated by the open window.

“I learned a lot from that fight. I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight,” says Silva. “Not overlooking anything else right now, but I just want to get the chance to fight him again.”

What a prize. The winner gets to face the man who beat him: Machida.

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Articles of 2009

Ten Boxing Wishes For 2010

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As 2009 comes to a close, one reflects on what went well and what went wrong during the year in boxing. There were many highlights. Pacquiao vs. Cotto and Showtime’s Super Six tournament were part of the best that boxing had to offer. But there were some low points too therefore the industry has some work to do in order to keep generating fans. Here are some suggestions for 2010:

10. Better pay per view cards

Paying 40 to 50 bucks to watch the main event gets old real quick. Why do we have to sit through a horrible under-card to get to the main course? It’s like being fed spam appetizers before the Thanksgiving turkey. It seems that the pay per view promoters just don’t get it. Are they watching what they put on or do they only watch the “big fight” as everyone else is slowly being conditioned to do so?

9. Time to make Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight

Okay, I understand he’s the son of one of the greatest fighters that ever lived. But he’s had 42 fights against low to mid level competition and has never managed to look spectacular. It’s time to throw the 23 year old out of the nest to see if he can fly. My suggestion is a fight against Sergio Mora or maybe even Yuri Foreman. Neither of these guys can punch. They may outbox Junior but they won’t totally humiliate him.

8. No more ridiculous Pay Per View mismatches

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Juan Manuel Marquez should’ve never been made. It was a ridiculous fight when it was announced and it was more ridiculous when it took place. Unable to bring Manny Pacquiao to the bargaining table for a third match against Juan Manuel Marquez, someone figured that pairing up the 135 pound champion against a natural 147 pounder like Mayweather would be a great idea. The pay per view generated over a million buys but the fact that millions of people were treated to an incredibly boring mismatch is what’s truly worrisome. I can guarantee you one thing about this card. The sport of boxing lost fans once the show was over and done with. Talk about short term thinking.

7. Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola shows up for a fight in amazing shape

It was painful to see Chris Arreola take a beating from the Ukrainian giant, Vitali Klitscho. The champion certainly earned his “Dr. Ironfist” moniker as he plowed his powerful shots into the former #1 WBC heavyweight contender’s face. He reddened and bloodied the young Mexican American with an assortment of weapons and foot movement seldom seen on a six foot seven inch heavyweight. Arreola was brave and unrelenting in battle. He never stopped coming forward and took chances when he could. His work in the ring at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles wasn’t the problem. Where Arreola let himself down was outside the ring. His unwillingness to condition himself into a finely tuned athlete cost him certain immortality as the first ever heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. Arreola has the heart and skills but it was his mental fortitude that broke down. Anyone who’s followed the Riverside fighter knows that his best weight is somewhere in the 230 pound range. It certainly isn’t at the 252 pounds he registered on the scale at the Staples Center.  Those fifteen to twenty extra pounds might have made all the difference in the world. Maybe he would’ve been a little quicker, maybe he could’ve sustained a faster pace in order to tire out the champion. In his most recent fight against Brian Minto, Arreola weighed in at a career high 263. It looks like “The Nightmare” isn’t willing to change for anyone. At this pace, the only nightmares he’ll be providing will be to the management of Hometown Buffets all across Riverside.  Just kidding “Nightmare”!

6. More respect for the lighter weights

Real boxing fans know that the most exciting fighters in the sport are usually found toiling in weight divisions south of 154 pounds. Pacquiao, Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Edwin Valero, Israel Vazquez, Juan Ma Lopez, Vic Darchinyan, Rafael Marquez and countless others have been the real driving force behind this sport. It’s those great fighters that have made boxing fanatics out of casual fans. The heavyweights may get all the money and glory but it’s the little guys who make the sport shine and it’s time they received greater compensation. It’s dismaying to think that a mediocre heavyweight can make three or four times as much as the great Rafael Marquez.

5. An American Heavyweight champion

Speaking of heavyweights, two Americans tried and failed at dethroning Vitali Klitschko this year. Both Kevin Johnson and Chris Arreola did their best to wrestle the belt away from “Dr. Klitschko” but came up short since they were easily outclassed. What happened to the great American Heavyweight? Where’s our new Joe Frazier or Ali? Even a new Gerry Cooney or a Ken Norton would do at this point. I’ve got a feeling that the only way we’re going to see an American champion is if Klitschko retires. My money is on Arreola. Although undisciplined and rough outside the ring, he’s got tons (no pun intended) of natural talent. He’s without a doubt the most talented American heavyweight on the scene.

4. More ShoBox

The Showtime Cable network gave us the best boxing on TV for the price of a cable television subscription. Their ShoBox series has been a proven hit for Senior VP of Sports Programming Ken Hershman. The concept is simple yet brilliant. Match up two up and comers with great records and let’s see what happens. Sometimes the results are surprising. Many have passed the ShoBox test and went on to bigger and better things. Others have been exposed as having padded records and eventually their careers stall and take a dive.

3. More safety in Mexico so I can attend a show without a gun battle breaking out

Having lived near the Tijuana border all my life I’m dismayed at the war zone that the city has evolved into. Every day there are reports of shootings fueled by the drug war trade. Believe it or not, there was a time when Tijuana was safe and most wouldn’t have thought twice about crossing the border for some seafood and nightlife. No more. Having covered several boxing cards on Revolucion Avenue many years ago, I got a taste of just how important the sport is to Mexican fans. It’s also important to me but not that important. For now I’ll stick to covering shows at the Pechanga Casino and in the less dangerous city of L.A. I never thought I’d say that.

2. Pac Man vs. Mayweather

This is the fight everyone wants to see. Seeing how Mayweather dominated Pac Man’s arch enemy, Juan Manuel Marquez, you have to wonder if the Filipino can handle Lil’ Floyd’s speed and size. One thing is for sure, betting against Pacquiao doesn’t usually work out for me. It never has. There’s no future in it. So if the fight gets done it’s Pacquiao by TKO in ten.

1. And finally

One final wish is reserved for all the readers of TheSweetScience.com I wish you all a healthy and happy 2010. Thank you for your continued loyalty to the site. It’s very much appreciated.

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Articles of 2009

A Very Special New Year's Day Column

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It has been just over four months since Nick Charles, the play-by-play announcer for Shobox: The New Generation, was diagnosed with stage IV bladder cancer and forced to take a medical hiatus from the monthly show that has aired since 2001.

Since then he has undergone grueling chemotherapy treatments that have resulted in him losing all of his hair as he forces himself to live as normal of a life as possible. Through sheer force of will, as well as the strength and support that he receives from his wonderfully loving family and his strong Christian faith, the 63-year-old Charles has managed to keep his weight up while not falling prey to the always lingering threats of depression, cynicism and negativity.

If one was unaware that he was battling such an insidious disease, you’d never know from talking on the phone to him that he has been to hell and back. He has lost none of the inspiring energy that has endeared him to members of the boxing community and legions of worldwide viewers.

“I’m doing great,” Charles said during a telephone conversation on December 30th. “I’ve been off the chemo for a month, and the doctors have told me that I’m 80 percent in remission. I’m going to see them again in three months. It may come back, but if it takes one year, or two years, or however long, I’m going to make the most of the good time.”

As physically and emotionally wrenching as the grim diagnosis and subsequent treatment has been, even for someone as perpetually positive as Charles, the longtime announcer said a lot of good things have come from it.

Having been married three times, Charles is the father of four children: Jason, 38, Melissa, 34, Charlotte, 22, and Giovanna, 3 ½.

While Charles is not big on regrets, he is the first to admit that he wasn’t always there for his older children. For many years he traveled the world as a CNN correspondent, often putting the demands of his career above all else, including those closest to him. Nowhere was the strain more evident than in his relationship with Melissa.

Having been divorced from Melissa’s mother since 1977, Charles said his relationship with that daughter has been especially “hot and cold, all of our lives.”

His illness has enabled them to forge a relationship that has been “based on a massive amount of forgiveness and understanding.”

“This has had a tremendous healing effect on both of us,” said Charles. “My illness has had a fortifying effect on a lot of things, the most important of which is my relationships with my family.”

That also includes his first wife, with whom he has had an often acrimonious relationship over the past three decades.

“It took a long time for the scab to become a scar, but we had lunch one day and it was so great to once again see the gentle, soft sides of each other,” he explained. “The whole divorce process creates a hardness that doesn’t always go away.”

Charles is also the grandfather to three children, some of whom are about the same age as his youngest daughter. He jokes that he has a “nuclear 21st century family” because of the similar ages of two generations of children. One of the hardest things for him has been the realization that he can’t always play with them in manner in which he would like.

“The hemoglobin is the fuel in your tank, so when it’s low you can’t will yourself to do things no matter how much you want to,” said Charles. “You can’t just sleep it off or work through it. I don’t want the kids to wonder why I can’t play in the backyard with them, or kick a soccer ball, or throw them in the air.”

Particularly difficult is when Giovanna reminds her father of how handsome he is, but then innocently asks him what happened to his hair, eyebrows and lashes.

“You try to keep things on a need to know basis, which is not easy when dealing with curious kids,” said Charles.

While Charles might look like the kind of guy that things have often come easy to, the reality is that his beginnings were far from auspicious. But, he says, his often challenging Chicago childhood blessed him with the steely resolve that has helped him so much during the arduous journey he is now on.

“I had it pretty rough growing up,” he explained. “I remember the lights and the heat being shut off and eating mustard sandwiches. I went to work at 13 and always had insecurities about the future. But I always expected and saw the best in people, so when I got sick, never once did I say 'Why me?”

Since taking a leave of absence from Shobox, the outpouring of support from the boxing community has warmed Charles’s heart. For a guy that is battling for his life, he actually considers himself fortunate to be surrounded by so much goodness in both his personal and professional lives.

“I always hear that boxing people are ruthless, but I couldn’t disagree more,” said Charles. “I’ve probably received about 1,000 e-mails, and people are always following in sending their best wishes. From the relatively unknown people in boxing to many of the more famous people, there has been an outpouring of true affection.”

Charles said that the Top Rank organization has been exceedingly kind and gracious. He was touched beyond description when he learned that officials in Oklahoma got special permission to have a seamstress sew “Keep Fighting Nick” onto their sleeves. He chokes up when talking about cut man Stitch Duran giving up an endorsement opportunity so he could put Charles’s name on his outfit. He never tires of hearing shout-outs from fighters on television.

Charles has always been a people person with an inordinate faith in the goodness of his fellow man. Battling this illness has only made his already strong faith in humanity even stronger.

“Adversity is a great teacher, and it really teaches you who your genuine friends are,” said Charles. “I have a lot of friends.”

He also has a remarkable wife, Cory, a CNN producer to whom he has been married for 11 years. She is the daughter of an electrician, a self-made woman who exudes all of the warmth of her native Brooklyn. She has reinforced her husband’s spiritual base by her love, optimism and strength of character.

“If I get down, she reminds me to not get too caught up,” said Charles. “I believe in eternity, and that has put me pretty much at peace.”

More than anything else, Charles wants to get himself back behind a microphone sooner rather than later, and hopefully on Shobox. He is the first to admit that viewers “don’t watch the series to see Nick Charles,” but he is proud of the fact that he was “part of the identity” of such a popular show.

“And people love comeback stories,” added Charles. “That’s the message I’m getting from the people out there.”

In boxing the word “champion” is often overused because it pertains only to winning belts and receiving worldwide recognition for being the best at your craft. The reality is that life’s real champions have other qualities, such as the innate ability to treat people well and always make them feel better about themselves, especially when the recipients of the goodwill are in no position to give them anything back.

By that standard of measure, Charles is as much, if not more of a champion than all of the boxers he has covered during the nine years that Shobox has been on the air.

I know I speak for scores of others when I say, “Happy New Year, Champ. We hope that you are the comeback story of the year in 2010.”

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